Legends tell of dugong curses

Legends tell of dugong curses

The only dugong being raised in captivity in Japan (photograph provided by Toba Aquarium)

April 19, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

By Chie Tome

“If you harass a mermaid you will be cursed.” The dugong was a model for the legends of mermaids and is a designated for special protection in Japan. There is much folklore about the dugong in Okinawa, and in every tale it is said that harming a dugong will invite misfortune. In Oura Bay in Nago, where traces of dugong feeding have been confirmed, there are plans to begin construction on land reclamation work in conjunction with the construction of a new base in nearby Henoko, and dugong lovers are expressing concern.

Oura Bay and Cape Henoko in Nago are known as one of the dugong’s few habitats. However, according to surveys conducted by the Okinawa Defense Bureau in conjunction with the new base construction, no dugong have been seen there since massive concrete blocks were sunk to the bottom of Oura Bay in January 2015.

There are still legends of mermaids in Okinawa (illustration by Shizu Miki)

Takeshi Kohara, an author who wrote a section about dugong-related legends In the book “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ryukyu Yokai”, says “It is also said that the 1771 Great Yaeyama Tsunami was divine punishment brought about by a dugong. If we threaten their living environment, there could be consequences.”

When we asked the Okinawa Defense Bureau about dugong legends, they replied, “We cannot respond to hypothetical questions. We want it to be understood that we are putting in our utmost effort to reduce the burden on Okinawa.”

Kiyomi Oshiro, 67, of Nago says she has heard tales of the dugong since she was a small child. “Who will benefit from purposely harassing [dugongs] and destroying their habitat? If human arrogance goes too far, we will pay the consequences someday,” says Oshiro.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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